In the alphabet soup of regulatory acronyms, performance-based ratemaking (PBR) may help shape events well into the next century. At present, PBR is being implemented, or considered by, public utility commissions (PUCs) in over 20 states. By 2000, PBR is likely to reach most of the 50 states as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The pressures of a global economy have raised the stakes.
We stand on the threshold of a new era in the electric services industry. I deliberately avoid the term "electric utility industry," because the future is not limited to the vertically integrated monopoly utility. Many utilities may already perceive the first cracks in their armor: nonutility generators (NUGs), self-generators, and energy service companies.
Competition is not in the industry's future; it is here now. Further, competition and market forces are not going to magically disappear.
Gas pipeline reform is looming on the horizon like the stealth bomber. It faded from view a couple years ago, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) completed Order 636 and turned to electric issues. Yet gas reforms are more pressing: They began earlier, their direction is clearer, and their completion is closer at hand. In fact, without a more price-responsive market for gas transportation, we cannot fashion an efficient and integrated energy industry.
With no need for new capital, utilities have lost political pressure, exposing the regulatory compact as an illusion.Recovery of stranded investment today marks the central issue in the debate over electric utility competition. Unfortunately, the utility argument in favor of recovery is flawed.